WTO Breaks 12-Year Standoff to Reach First Global Trade Deal

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By m rochan | December 7, 2013 9:09 PM EST

Director-General Roberto Azevedo gives a thumbs-up as he greets delegates after the closing ceremony of the ninth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Nusa Dua, on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, on 7 December, 2013 (Reuters).

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) struck its first ever global agreement on 6 December after the 159 trade ministers gathered in Indonesia approved an international deal that is tipped to inject about $1tr into the global economy.

The landmark 'Bali package' is aimed at liberalising global commerce. The pact promises to cut red tape at customs the world over, provides better terms of trade to developing countries and permits emerging economies to dodge WTO rules on farm subsidies provided they are trying to feed the poor.

The historic accord would infuse $960bn (£587bn, €701bn) into the global economy and create 21 million jobs, 18 million of those in developing nations, according to Washington D.C.-based Peterson Institute of International Economics.

Failure to strike a multilateral deal at Bali would have undermined the WTO's credibility and triggered regional or bilateral trade negotiations among members, such as the US-led 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership or a US-EU alliance known as TTIP.

Negotiations hit a roadblock at the last minute when Cuba abruptly refused to accept a deal that would not help force open the US embargo of the Caribbean island.

However, it later agreed on a compromise with the US.

The talks began on 3 December with India, the world's second most populous country, refusing to make changes to a $24bn plan to provide subsidised food to almost two-thirds of its population.

However, members eventually found common ground. While India has insisted on a permanent exemption from WTO rules on farm subsidies, the final text aimed to advocate a permanent solution within four years.

The Bali agreement would now need formal approval at the WTO, expected to happen by mid-2015, reported The Wall Street Journal.

"For the first time in our history, the WTO has truly delivered," WTO chief Roberto Azevedo told exhausted diplomats following over four days of haggling in Bali.

"This time the entire membership came together. We have put the 'world' back in World Trade Organization," he said. "We're back in business... Bali is just the beginning," Azevedo added, reported Reuters.

Trade Scepticism

"Beyond papering over a serious dispute on food security, precious little progress was made at Bali," said Simon Evenett, professor of international trade at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland.

"Dealing with the fracas on food security sucked the oxygen out of the rest of the talks," Evenett told the news agency.

The Bali world trade talks are part of a 12-year-old drive to expand multilateral free trade in sensitive areas such as agriculture. Negotiations first began in Doha, Qatar, in 2001.

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